The arrival of the first company of American Protestant missionaries in Hawaiʻi in 1820 marked the beginning of Hawaiʻi’s phenomenal rise to literacy.
The missionaries were scattered across the Islands, each home was usually in a thickly inhabited village, so that the missionary and his wife could be close to their work among the people. The missionaries established schools associated with their missions .
On July 14, 1826, the American missionaries finalized a 12-letter alphabet for the written Hawaiian language, using five vowels (a, e, i, o and u) and seven consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p and w.) That alphabet continues today.
Planning for the written Hawaiian language and development by the missionaries was modeled after the spoken language, attempting to represent the spoken Hawaiian sounds with English letters.
Interestingly, these same early missionaries taught their lessons in Hawaiian to the Hawaiians, rather than English. The missionaries learned the Hawaiian language, and then taught the Hawaiians in their language. In part, the mission did not want to create a separate caste and portion of the community as English-speaking Hawaiians.
Common schools (where the 3 Rs were taught) sprang up in villages all over the Islands. In these common schools, classes and attendance were quite irregular, but nevertheless basic reading and writing skills (in Hawaiian) and fundamental Christian doctrine were taught to large numbers of people. (Canevali)
The chiefs became proponents for education and edicts were enacted by the King and the council of chiefs to stimulate the people to reading and writing.
“Statute for the Regulation of Schools” passed by the King and chiefs on October 15, 1840. Its preamble stated, “The basis on which the Kingdom rests is wisdom and knowledge.”
“Peace and prosperity cannot prevail in the land, unless the people are taught in letters and in that which constitutes prosperity. If the children are not taught, ignorance must be perpetual, and children of the chiefs cannot prosper, nor any other children”.
The 1840 educational law mandated compulsory attendance for children ages four to fourteen. Any village that had fifteen or more school-age children was required to provide a school for their students.
William Richards, a missionary, was appointed Minister of Public Instruction and helped develop a highly-organized educational system. He was later replaced by missionary Richard Armstrong. Richard Armstrong is known as the “the father of American education in Hawaiʻi.”
In 1855 the office of Minister was replaced by the Board of Education, whose members were appointed by the King, and the department was named the Department of Public Instruction.
The educational system and means of instruction evolved over time, in the Islands and across the continent. Younger learners were first in ‘preparatory’ or ‘grammar’ schools in the Islands (we now generally refer to these as elementary schools.)
Older learners were in ‘colleges’ (i.e. Oahu College (Punahou,) St Louis College;) these are now typically called high schools.
Historically, grades K-8 were considered ‘elementary.’ In 1888 on the continent, Charles Eliot launched an effort to reorganize schooling, arguing that the last years of elementary school was a waste and students should be working on college preparatory courses instead. Rather than grades 7 and 8 as part of elementary, the push was to put them in the high school.
Then, on July 6, 1909, the Columbus, Ohio, Board of Education authorized the creation of the first junior high school in the US. (Ohio History Central)
In the Islands, between 1909 and 1920 the education system underwent a series of changes. In 1909, school agents were replaced by supervising principals; in 1913 the building and maintenance responsibilities of the school agents were transferred out of the department to the Counties. (State Archives)
In 1920, a report was published on the survey of schools conducted by the Bureau of Education of the Federal Department of the Interior.
The report noted that on the continent typical middle-class families in America were sending their children to public secondary schools, but in Hawai‘i, public schools were so few and geographically isolated, that many had to go to private schools or were forced to drop out.
Therefore, the commission recommended the establishment of secondary or Junior high schools which should offer more academic and vocational choices to feed various high schools. (NPS) There was a rapid increase in the establishment of Junior high schools.
By 1922, there were six in the rural parts of the state. In 1928, Central Grammar School became Central Junior High School with an enrollment of approximately 1,200 students and 47 teachers. It was one of 5 Junior high schools in Honolulu (with Lincoln, Washington, Kalākaua and Lili‘uokalani.) (NPS)
Then, in 1932, the board of education changed all formerly-named Junior High Schools to Intermediate Schools. (NPS) The education department continued to maintain a policy of naming Intermediate schools after American Presidents or members of the Hawaiian Royal family.
Then, a new reform movement took place with the Junior/Intermediate-aged students (~11-13;) rather than have a focus on college preparatory, school reformers were looking for an educational program to meet the intellectual, emotional, and the interpersonal needs of young adolescents. (Jadallah)
In 1963, William Alexander first used the expression middle school to describe the schools between elementary and high school. Alexander, regarded as the ‘father of the middle-school,’ led the movement to create middle-schools and a middle-level curriculum that would meet the unique needs of young adolescents. (McFarland)
The Carnegie Corporation (1989) issued a report that profoundly affected the education of young adolescents. ‘Turning Points’ advocated reforms intended to make their education more personalized, supportive, and active: interdisciplinary teams, cooperative learning, involvement with families and community, mentoring, and active teaching. (Daniels)
With a new program, school names started to change again. While no wholesale change took place (as happened with the Junior High to Intermediate,) Intermediate schools in the Islands started adopting the ‘Middle School’ philosophy and label.
Today, while the Junior High School reference is long gone, there are many Intermediate and Middle Schools across the Islands.